There’s an interesting story over on the Publishers Weekly site about technology’s impact on the book industry.
To anyone in the newspaper industry — like me — the conclusions ought to sound awfully familiar:
The panel, moderated by the Times book editor, David Ullin, included former PW editor-in-chief, publishing consultant and author of So Many Books, So Little Time Sara Nelson; Richard Nash, former head of Soft Skull Press; Otis Chandler, founder of the Goodreads Web site; and Patrick Brown, Vroman’s Books’ webmaster and blogger engaging in a sometimes adversarial conversation about the profound changes that challenge the core of book publishing, how writers and readers connect, and how books are bought and sold.
“Writing and reading are doing just fine. It’s the intermediaries that are failing,” commented Nash, referring to ineffective supply chain management among publishers. That supply chain needs to deal with 300,000 books published annually, which led Nelson to two points. “This is a gatekeeper issue,” she said. “We simply publish too many books. We need more midlist novels and less of the celebrity books that challenge the bottomline of publishing conglomerates. The supply chain is broken. In the 20th century you got books to distributors and they got books into stores, and reps from publishers into stores telling buyers what to order… that doesn’t work anymore. The more you publish, the more overwhelming it is, and you need somebody to help you through the morass of choices. Goodreads is one of those gatekeepers.”
The upshot of this is pretty encouraging for industrious writers who are savvy about marketing and cognizant of emerging trends (e-books, for example). It’s hard to know for sure where things will end up, but I’d say it’s a better-than-decent bet that talented self-publishers (or independent writers, or whatever other label you prefer) will continue to gain legitimacy in the eyes of readers.
There’s an interesting response in the comments section from an acquisitions editor, who draws a corollary to indie musicians and suggests that the pendulum will eventually swing back to the traditional model:
Most serious musicians have come to the conclusion that it’s far too much work to write the songs, play the songs, and twiddle the control board knobs while recording the songs. You get what you pay for, and when you don’t pay anything, you shouldn’t expect to get much.
Here’s the thing, though: Serious self-publishers hire professional cover designers, professional typesetters and professional copy editors, then contract with a professional printing firm to produce the books, just as the traditional houses do. We’re not talking about people in the basement with a secondhand copying machine and a stapler.